The Unabomber still believes in global warming, do you?
That was the gist of the idiotic message sent to drivers speeding along the Eisenhower Expressway in Illinois early this month.
Immediately after the billboard’s appearance, a wave of negative publicity was aimed at the originators of the ad, libertarian think tank Heartland Institute (Supporters of such gems as “Secondhand Smoking Maybe Doesn’t Even Exist, Guys” and “We Think The Ozone’s Shiny New Hole Looks Great On It!”). From economists to journalists to bloggers, it seemed no one was shy enough to roundly denounce the Unabomber schtick as malicious, tacky and anti-scientific propaganda. The ad was taken down 24 hours later.
A generation or two from now, the world will solidly define Obama’s legacy as the 44th President of the United States.
Of course who’s to say now what the fate of the next four years will be; but even without a reelection, Barack Obama’s accomplishments and failures will be that much clearer to grasp as the years go on. One of those accomplishments will rightfully be the public acknowledgment by the most public of American citizens that all his fellow Americans, regardless of their sexual orientation, should be allowed to consensually love and marry whoever they damn please.
While his political opponents gripe about not focusing on the “issues of significance“, Obama’s support for the right to love and be loved in kind will go down in history as a turning point for the advancement of human dignity. Bolstered by the implicit approval of the highest office in the State, gay rights movements across the board will generate much-needed momentum and inertia to challenge and win the legal battles that remain to be fought, politicians will become more vocal about defending the rights of gay Americans, and most importantly, those growing up in a world of 4G technology and Kindles will come to see the respect of same-sex marriage as simply being the default position. They will mature in a world where it’s only natural (to co-opt the religious right) to be entitled to companionship without prejudice. All this is true, yet one can’t help but feel a sense of sadness upon realizing how holllow a victory it feels. Continue reading
It’s depressing any way you look at it. 40% of Americans don’t think evolution is real, 53% that global warming isn’t conclusively proven to be (overwhelmingly) caused by people. Once you start tearing it alongside party lines, it gets worse, only 35% of conservatives have a great deal of trust in science to begin with, a decrease of ten percent from 30 years ago (the fact that no political affiliation reaches 50% is also pretty abysmal on its own). When people point out that we should be allowed to believe whatever we want without criticism, those above numbers are the ones I point out.
Spend any amount of time studying science and you come to realize one very scary reality: there is no such thing as certainty in the world, no grand tree of knowledge.
That’s not to say that everything we have been taught in high school chemistry is a lie, merely that scientific knowledge is built upon a series of assumptions about the universe; assumptions that have been challenged and tested billions and billions of times, but assumptions nonetheless.
There’s simply too much information, too much noise in the data, for us to ever know something is 100% true. That’s alright though: science isn’t about being certain, it’s about making the best educated decision based on the information we can sift through, and having the presence of mind to never take that decision for granted. If ever the day comes that one such assumption fails a challenge, like someone saying they found a neutrino that travels faster than light for instance (Gee, what do you know? Someone did), then it’s the responsibility of the scientific community to relentlessly poke, prod and verify that claim until they’re as sure as they can be that a neutrino can indeed travel faster than light, and if they did verify that, then it’s also their responsibility to reconcile that new information with the current data they have, until they have the best picture of the world they can muster. Even if they have to take a sledgehammer to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity in the process (though we’re still a while away from needing to do that). That’s what science does; it never solves the puzzle for us, it only gives us the best place to find another missing piece.
That being said, while nothing is ever 100% certain scientifically, that doesn’t mean there aren’t rules of the world we’ve come to accept as being close to certainty as you can get. Newtonian physics(ahem), evolution, gravity and Sean Connery being the greatest man to ever wear a suit to mention some. These and other theories about the world have passed through the fire time and time again, each time becoming more refined and strengthened. It’s a slow and arduous process, but you can’t argue with the results. Unless, it seems, you’re a Republican candidate for President.